DNR offers safety tips for National Safe Boating Week

With school almost over, the weather warming up and the upcoming Memorial Day weekend marking the unofficial start of summer, many will begin enjoying Michigan’s more than 11,000 inland lakes and roughly 36,000 miles of rivers and streams.

Saturday marked the start of National Safe Boating Week. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources works closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and local law enforcement agencies to make sure people are safely enjoying the state’s waters.

The DNR reminds boaters to keep these safety tips in mind before they float —

— Wear a life jacket — accidents happen: In 2017, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that drowning was the cause of death in 76 percent of all boating accident fatalities. Last July, when two people were stranded in Lake Huron after falling off their personal watercraft, their life jackets kept them afloat in the rough water until a conservation officer arrived to help. Take the time now to learn more about Michigan’s life jacket rules.

— Boat sober: Alcohol is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Studies show that passengers are 10 times more likely to fall overboard when they have consumed alcohol.

— Stay alert: Be aware of objects and other people — including stationed anglers, swimmers, boaters, kayakers and paddleboarders — in the water. Watch for debris, such as commercial fishing nets, which sometimes break free and float at the surface of the water.

— Make sure the boat is properly equipped and equipment is in good working order: In October, a man was rescued from Lake Gogebic after the steering on his boat became inoperable. He was able to call for help and wore his life jacket until a conservation officer arrived.

In addition to all legally required equipment, such as life jackets and fire extinguishers, always carry a first-aid kit, nautical charts and an anchor. Make sure navigation lights are working properly.

— File a float plan. Always let a family member or friend on shore know the details of your trip. Let them know when you are expected to be back. Give them phone numbers for the local emergency dispatch center or U.S. Coast Guard in the event you don’t return when expected.

— Take a cellphone in a waterproof case or a marine radio: In March, a capsized kayaker on Lake Erie was rescued because he was able to call for help.

— Know how to escape a current: Being aware of the Great Lakes swim risk levels and the beach warning flag system that can help swimmers avoid dangerous currents. Understanding how to “flip, float and follow” while swimming can help in case you get stuck in a strong current.

The DNR also recommends a boating safety course for anyone who plans to use a boat or personal watercraft. Classes are offered at locations around the state and online, making it convenient and affordable.

Keep in mind that in Michigan those born on or after July 1, 1996, can operate a boat or most types of personal watercraft legally only if they have been issued a boater education safety certificate.

For more information on boating safety, including who is required to take a boating safety class, go to www.michigan.gov/boating.

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